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theDesk Simplicity Explained

theDesk United Centre pantry
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“Minimalism is the subtraction of quantity whereas simplicity is the reduction of complexity.”

Written by Oscar Venhuis

This is the basis from which I explain the idea behind theDesk design philosophy. It’s  a question I get asked frequently. Especially back in 2016 when I suggested that we implement a new design direction at theDesk. The idea had started with a desire to find a quiet place to work. Sounds simple, right? Not so simple in Hong Kong.

One common complaint about Hong Kong that often comes to mind is the atrocious air pollution, yet there are other forms of pollution that are also cause for concern – two in particular, noise and aesthetic pollution. Whether I am visiting my favorite barista, having lunch in a restaurant, taking some time to unwind in a park, going on a hike in the hills, walking along the street, even sitting in the sauna in my gym or wherever I happen to be, the noise pollution is incessant and the visual stimulation is often overwhelming. However, Hong Kong just wouldn’t be Hong Kong without it – they are simultaneously a blessing and a curse.

For many years, my only escape was the City Hall Public Library on the 4th floor. The library was housed in a building reminiscent of feudal times with thick carpets and solid concrete walls. In the stillness of the library, the single most noticeable sound was the creaking of the wooden legs of the heavy library chairs. No air-conditioning, no traffic noise, no distractions. Just nothing. This is the essence of theDesk design disposition, simplicity.

Simplicity is complex

Like many other metropoles in the world, Hong Kong has an enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots. When you are a member of the latter group, you need to be resourceful. Everything you have has a purpose and has to be repurposed. A bottle becomes a candle holder and old newspapers become insulation during cold winters. Everything item has value.

theDesk United Centre entrance in Admiralty Hong Kong
Entrance of theDesk United Centre in Admiralty.

For those who are better off, the practice of buying and disposing things after they are no longer wanted happens because the haves can. There’s no emotional attachment nor value to what they attain. For the haves there’s no need nor intention to repurpose.

When we have it all, we desire the opposite – a simple life without complexities. Those who are extremely poor and can’t afford anything desire a life of plentifulness. The latter sounds like simplicity but this is an involuntary situation. With contemporary simplicity the difference is that it is intentional.

Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, commercialized simplicity with simple tips. Her followers believe that rearranging your items, throwing them out, or folding them perfectly sparks joy and results in a life of simplicity. It is improbable that sustained gratification is accomplished by following strict rules of tidiness. It reduces distraction by reducing quantity, but does not help to reduce complexity or simplify things. If you don’t believe me, you’re most welcome to come tidy up my place.

Simplicity and minimalism – it is the difference between the meaning of beautiful and pretty.

What Marie Kondo does is pretty. It’s entertaining and minimalistic. Simplicity is often confused with minimalism as an act of making things look pretty yet beauty has many deeper dimensions. Simplicity is not about the absence of clutter, it is a consequence of it. Simplicity is a perpetual practice that starts and ends in your mind.

theDesk meeting room at United Centre in Admiralty Hong Kong
Simplicity isn’t about whiteness.

Experience simplicity

theDesk is designed with simplicity in mind to give you space to think about today’s complex challenges. By focusing on what really matters, you get the most fundamental version of the object. This is the central thought process behind our design ethos. Our space is a metaphorical blank canvas where you add the colours, literally and figuratively. 

Literally because you will bring colorful stationery, computers, posters, jackets, and other colorful items to the space. Figuratively because you will add color by contributing different viewpoints, languages, and perspectives in the space.

theDesk people
What really matters, our community.

theDesk has been designed with ample white space to allow people to be the central point of attention and not impose the environment on them. It is a collective interaction between you and theDesk that transforms the white space into your unique workplace.

Simplicity is not about the state of our interior, but the state of your mind.


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